If you are a regular reader of this post, you’ve noticed that I’ve made periodic attempts at writing in a creative way. One of those attempts has been the writing of my own poetry. Now, I’m not the world’s most perfect poet (and I know it), but putting pen to prose… er, uh, actually more like putting fingers to keyboard to prose has stimulated my creative writing juices quite a bit. Even if some of my rhymes fall flat, I still take pride in knowing that I took a creative risk.
Last Friday night (July 7), I took, for me, a really awesome risk: Reading my original poetry in front of a live audience… and doing so in my feminine persona! Here’s the deal: I established an account with a certain social media service (which is a subject for a future post, I promise), and through it learned about an open mic poetry reading at Mother Fool’s, a little coffeehouse on Williamson Street on Madison’s near east side that’s been around since 1994 and serves breakfast, lunch, soups, bakery goods, coffee, conversation, wi-fi… and, yes, live entertainment. (The above photo is from a post a couple of years ago about Willy Street as a whole. Since that photo, Mother Fool’s suffered damage to its front entrance, thanks to a drunk driver turning the place into a drive-thru last August. Mother Fool’s had to close for a while, but in due time the entrance was repaired and looking good as new.)
About once a month, Mother Fool’s also hosts poetry readings, which runs the gamut from themed nights to special guests-only events to open mic sessions for anyone who wants to sign up and slam some poetry into listeners’ ears. This was the case last Friday night, when Mother Fool’s was host to an open mic event, which started off with a special guest, the Cleveland-based poet John Burroughs. He was quite the dynamic reader for sure, presenting his prose in such a powerful fashion that you couldn’t take your eyes or ears off of him. For sure, he was certainly a much more polished poet and presenter than myself.
After John Burroughs finished, the rest of the evening was devoted to whomever signed up for the open mic. How it worked was anyone who wished to read their works put their name on a slip of paper. Names were then randomly drawn to determine the order of readers. Every reader had a set of no more than 5 minutes; once they finished, a new name was drawn, and that person got the chance to read. That’s how it worked until the final name in the hat was drawn.
My fellow open mic readers were for the most part well prepared. I, however, was still debating about what to read until about 20 minutes before my name was drawn. Friday morning, I printed out what I thought was some of the better poems I had written (again, you can see all of it of here). I wanted to squeeze in about 3 or 4 of them, considering not just quality but also time constraints. My mind, though, was more of the former than the latter; up until that evening, I hadn’t really rehearsed the read-for-time thing in my mind. So, thinking the night’s 5-minute-per-person rule was strict — and that the host literally had a stopwatch and a hook for whenever anyone went over the limit — I pulled out a few of my prose from my folder, hit “start” on my stopwatch, and pantomimed reading them before hitting “stop.” I had printed out a couple of what could be considered “epic” poems, and when I say that, I don’t mean “poems that future generations will never forget” but more like “wow, I do have a couple of long ones.” That’s when I thought, well, I want to display a little bit of depth and breadth of my writings, and decided to go with three poems that ran, by my count, ran between a minute and a minute and a half of reading time.
So, with me finally being all set, I sat back, relaxed, enjoyed the performances of my fellow participants… and didn’t feel as nervous as I thought I would be by that point. Actually, for someone who’s never been good about public speaking, I felt more nervous walking the 2 blocks or so from where I parked to Mother Fool’s, and even then I wasn’t too nervous. I guessed (and correctly so) that anyone at Mother Fool’s wouldn’t think twice about some guy wearing a wig, makeup, and women’s clothing. Really, this place seemed like a truly open-minded and welcoming spot.
Then, before I knew it, I and the audience heard six magical words from the host:
“Our next reader is Allison M.”
And that’s when I thought… Hey! My name’s been drawn! It’s my turn! With that, I got up from the couch; shimmied between my fellow couchmates’ legs and the coffee table (“Pardon me. Excuse me.”); and with a calm yet anticipatory demeanor, headed up with my poetry to the stage at Mother Fool’s and took the mic. I introduced myself in a way that I thought would help made both the crowd and myself feel comfortable with each other:
“Hello, my name is Allison, and, yes… this hair is store-bought.”
Sounds cheesy to you? Well, it got a bit of a laugh from some in the audience. But it also turned out to be a pretty good ice breaker and a lead-in to the rest of my introduction (“Full-time male, part-time female, and really part-time poetry writer”) and my admission that I was presenting poetry in front of an audience for the first time. And that admission got a round of supportive applause… which perked up my self-confidence. They did the same for the one or two other first-timers that night, a routine tradition at this event, I suppose, but a good one.
After my intro, I read the three poems I selected from my folder, and if this comes across as a “greatest hits” highlight reel to you, I do apologize. I started with “Layers,” which, while it has more oblique references to my crossdressing nature than, say, this one, isn’t tied to any holiday. (Side note: The line about using a trowel got its own laugh.)
I’ve become to the realization that many of my poems are about building connections and understanding “Layers” seems to fit that bill, as does “Not Exactly Like You,” which felt not only strong (well, as strong as I can be in poetry) but also short (only about a minute in reading time). The last poem I read was “Every Hundred Feet,” which I feel stresses the appreciation of differences and people from all walks of life, but not as heavy handed as that descriptive made it sound.
As with virtually all of my fellow poetry readers, including the professional, I read off of my hard copy. That helped with my confidence a bit, as I would’ve been downright nervous had I needed to memorize everything, which I’m not good at. But what was really great was the applause. Yes, the other presenters received their own rounds of applause. But for me, the applause I received boosted my confidence not only as a poetry writer and a presenter… but also as a crossdresser actively seeking to present herself in a supportive public environment. These people accepted Allison and the talents. Seriously, you cannot comprehend how good it felt to receive those encouraging claps of approval and the “you did great” compliment I received from my couchmate after I sat back down in the audience.
Speaking of my couchmate, she did a favor for me while I was up on stage: She snapped a photo:
Yep, that’s yours truly decked out in a brand new wig, new rainbow “Equality” shirt I found at Target, and my still brand spankin’ new pair of PVC vinyl leggings. It felt like an ensemble that I thought provided a bit of edge with a down-to-earth air… and the presentable nature needed for a night in public as Allison. I’m so glad for this photo, as it will provide the visual proof to go along with the great memories of my first poetry evening at Mother Fool’s, from the performance to the compliments others gave me, to the acceptance others gave me.
And will this spur me to continue writing and performing poetry? Oh, yeah. I do have some more ideas for poems percolating in my head, and I’ll post them here in due time. Or, maybe I could perform them first? Hmmm… That doesn’t sound like a bad idea. Will it also build my still-budding appreciation for poetry specifically and creative writing and performing as a whole? Absolutely, for this town and this internet have some pretty good poetry writers who not only deserve a listen but also will serve as an inspiration. Seriously, check out a poetry slam or poetry writer near you; you’ll be glad you did.